Maximum participation

To the Editor:

Later this spring, the citizens of Bar Harbor will have a chance to vote on a bond issue related to the purchase of the former international ferry terminal on Eden Street.

Opinions vary widely on how to develop the property should the purchase be approved. All views are legitimate, and all voices deserve to be heard. The best way to insure that the true will of the community can be determined is for as many people as possible to exercise their right to vote.

Because this is such an important moment in the history of this town, I want to thank the Town Council for its recent decision to include the bond question on the written ballot for town meeting. As history has repeatedly shown, written ballot questions generate the broadest spectrum of participation involving the largest number of citizens.

The public hearings held in advance of the vote, which are required by charter, offer ample opportunity for those who have not yet expressed open opinions on written ballot issues to weight in. And the availability of these pages for the sharing of ideas and positions in the coming months offers another valuable opportunity for reasoned debate.

When combined with the scores of other meetings held on these issues over the past two years, and the open opportunity for anyone to comment on anything at the beginning of any council meeting, it would be extraordinarily disingenuous to suggest that people have not had a chance to have their say.

The outcome of any vital decision should be determined by a process that prizes maximum public participation.

To argue that putting an item on a written ballot amounts to disenfranchisement is to assume that anyone who votes differently does so out of ignorance or a lack of information. Fortunately, the public can usually see right through that kind of condescension.

Occam’s razor holds that when there are multiple explanations for an outcome, the simpler one is most often true. Was a debate lost due to skullduggery, ignorance or indifference, or did the majority of people just have a different opinion? Which is simpler?

Many times in the recent past, determined partisans in support of various issues, or seeking larger tax appropriations for their various special interests, have pushed to have their causes determined on the floor of open town meeting rather than at the ballot box. That is purely a numbers game and, depending on which side you favor, smart political gamesmanship.

It is far easier to prevail in a paradigm where one side or the other needs to marshal only 50 votes than at the ballot box, where that number increases tenfold.

Many folks, especially hardworking people and young parents, can’t always make an evening town meeting. Some, too, are more private in their views and are bashful about debating issues in public.

Holding a secret, written vote, where the polls are open for 12 hours, and where residents who may be away can vote absentee, insures that all who want their voice to be heard can participate. It reduces the likelihood that the majority will be drowned out by a noisy minority.

Written ballots in Bar Harbor frequently generate five to 10 times the turnout of an open session of town meeting. When it comes to voting on an issue that is extremely important to the future direction of this community, all sides should pledge support to making sure that every vote will be counted.

Earl Brechlin

Bar Harbor

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